Jim Hoagland is a Post contributing editor.
The Situation Room “is the inner sanctum within an already-secure facility where the most sensitive of the most sensitive information is discussed.”
— Ned Price, former spokesman, National Security Council
In responding to a question from The Post, Price put his finger on the greatest single outrage contained in the new episode of the President Trump-Omarosa Manigault Newman saga of sustained squalor: The misuse of the Situation Room by Wh ite House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly to isolate and fire an employee.
In a familiar Washington syndrome that the Trump administration has taken to new heights, we are rushing past the obvious. There is no reason to believe that the Kelly-Manigault Newman discussion contained any classified information and therefore deserved the extreme security precautions taxpayers fund for the Situation Room.
There is no indication of classified matters on the illicitly recorded tape that Manigault Newman brazenly played Sunday on “Meet the Press” to publicize her new tell-some memoir, “Unhinged,” where she reportedly portrays the president as a narcissistic bigot and charlatan losing control of his mental faculties (thereby proving the adage that even blind squirrels can find acorns).
This former “reality” television star cum stateswoman certainly has enough problems of credibility to make the media wary, as Pete Vernon of the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out: “She has long been nakedly self-interested and willing to lie for personal gain.”
She is that and so much more, a true Trump acolyte, and their argument might be set down as a simple falling-out among thieves. Of far greater concern is the role of Kelly and others whose reputations have been besmirched by their association with and kowtowing to a rogue, dishonorable president and his Republican Party enablers. Manigault Newman’s tape is a small but significant sign of how moral corruption spreads in this White House. That is a story that justifies the publicity the tape is receiving.
Begin with the obvious fact that she pulled off the taping in the Situation Room when Kelly clearly expected the venue to prevent that result. His failure speaks volumes about the effectiveness of Trump’s chief of staff and of this White House.
Kelly came to the White House as a Marine commander deeply respected by his troops, whose lives frequently depend on the judgments they make about people. To hear Kelly (on a tape that the White House has confirmed is authentic) try to cajole and bully a woman into silence is heartbreaking for those of us who respect the Marine Corps — and its leaders. (Full disclosure: My father was a Marine in World War II.)
It is not classified information that is at risk in Kelly’s threats that Manigault Newman’s “reputation” may suffer if her departure from the White House isn’t “friendly.” There is no indication in anything Kelly said then or that the White House has said since that Manigault Newman had access to classified information, or that defense information would have been threatened in any way had this conversation been held elsewhere. Kelly used the Situation Room to isolate and intimidate a troublemaker and loudmouth whom Trump had created in his own image and then placed in the upper ranks of his White House staff.
What Kelly does on the tape is try to implement a limited modified clean-up of a political nightmare that Trump himself created. At some point, the broom to clean up after Trump’s parade of ever more noxious elephants cannot be large enough. At some point, the bright line that Cabinet members draw around the national interest they may believe they protect by staying on Team Trump fades into invisibility. Kelly has identified where that line vanishes with his actions in this case.
Corruption — in moral, financial, political and other terms — is the most enduring and encompassing trait of this White House and the administration that Trump has created around it. To take even a whiff of this corruption into the sanctum of the White House Situation Room is an indefensible violation of our code of values as a nation. No one, and especially no Marine, should ever do that.